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Editorial: Emperor abdication panel must offer more insight

Discussions have resumed among the government's expert panel studying issues regarding Emperor Akihito's abdication. Based on the agreement reached between the ruling coalition and opposition parties over how a legal framework for the Emperor's abdication should be established, coordinated by the heads and vice heads of both houses of the Diet, panel members have started discussing possible titles for the Emperor after he steps down.

The last case of an emperor giving up his throne was some 200 years ago. However, Emperor Akihito will be the first emperor as a symbol of the state to step down. Careful deliberation over smooth abdication and imperial succession is required among the panel members.

The first issue regarding Emperor Akihito's abdication is his postretirement title and what he will be doing as a retired emperor. Historically, retired emperors were called "daijo tenno" (retired sovereign), or its abbreviated form "joko." Among professors at the panel's recent hearing, some supported the use of joko, while others proposed the title "former emperor."

Careful consideration is required for a system in which former emperor and new emperor coexist so as not to create the "duality" of the symbol that the emperor embodies or his power.

In the past, joko sometimes ruled cloistered governments, sparking clashes with emperors of the time, but that should not be a problem today where the emperor as a state symbol has taken roots. Nevertheless, the panel should work on considering a title that can gain understanding from the public.

Additionally, it would be unavoidable for Emperor Akihito to take part in fewer official activities after he steps down to prevent the duality of the state's symbol.

Another issue is the fact that there would be no crown prince after Crown Prince Naruhito becomes the emperor. The title "crown prince" is given to a son of the emperor who will succeed to the throne, but Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako do not have a son.

Not only is a crown prince next in line to the throne, but he also has important roles such as acting as a regent for the emperor to perform acts in matters of the state and appearing at events held across the country.

Because of the nature of the role of a crown prince, it is necessary to consider the position and treatment of Prince Akishino, Emperor Akihito's second son who will be the next in line to the throne after Crown Prince Naruhito succeeds his father. There have been historical cases where the title of "kotaitei," meaning the "younger brother of an emperor," was used. It is also likely that a support system for Prince Akishino needs to be discussed since he will be taking more roles in public duties after Emperor Akihito's abdication.

Furthermore, debate over the absence of a crown prince -- the title widely recognized as "the heir to the throne" by the public -- could arise.

Views compiled with coordination by the heads and vice heads of the House of Representatives and House of Councillors encourage the government to consider the possibility of establishing Imperial Family branches headed by female members. While it will not quickly lead to the creation of a "crown princess," more in-depth discussions over the possibility should be carried out.

The expert panel was set up after Emperor Akihito delivered his speech suggesting his wish to step down in August last year. But the panel initially responded inappropriately with deputy chairman Takashi Mikuriya, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, announcing its intention of establishing a one-off special law at an early stage. It is unacceptable for the panel to merely represent the prime minister's office's view on the matter.

On the other hand, House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima who has taken on the expert panel's discussions pushed back what was compiled at the panel meetings, arguing that the Diet was not a subcontractor to the expert panel. In consideration to the opposition, the lower and upper house heads and vice heads subsequently proposed a plan to add a justification clause for the emperor's abdication, which would be allowed with the establishment of a special law, to supplementary provisions of the Imperial House Law.

The expert panel's conclusion on the matter will shape future abdications and imperial succession. We call for an insightful proposal from the panel.

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